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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 1999 7:50 pm 
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I've always been a little at odds with the academic environment, even though it is a place that I spent much of my life. As a student, I marched to my own drummer. I used to have a saying: I try to keep education from getting in the way of my learning. Now that I have a son in school, I often find myself taking on the same battles. Without going into way to much detail, the battle usually is waged on the lines of what matters (getting an education) rather than what feeds the system.

I deal with administrators and their "expert opinions" who can't read their own literature about what really is effective in the learning process. Fortunately if you have the means to take your child wherever you want, there are ususally rational educators willing to give you the best effort available.

One "fad" in education has been the self-esteem craze. As the theory goes, we must work to protect the esteem of the student in order to motivate them to learn in the first place. In theory this seems plausible. However the application of that theory gets to be a bit obscene.

One of the consequences of this self-esteem craze is to presume that bad grades and significant challenges will blunt the student's motivation. One school of thought would have you inflating grades to make students feel good about their efforts. Another would keep the level of challenge down to the level of the student (dumb down so to speak), and create programs that specifically work on self esteem. Still another seeks to abandon grades altogether, or emphasize that they are not important. All this - of course - is based on expert opinion. "First principles" reasoning dictates that the ideas are worthwhile. And many administrators faced with failing students and/or a desire to be cutting edge seize on these new ideas before they are tested. Some use the new approaches (particularly those mentioned) merely to rationalize their own substandard results. I found that attitude alarmingly present among certain (unnamed) basketball coaches who basically wanted a good team (at the expense of the student's future).

A series of studies has come out that challenge the self-esteem gurus. Two groups of students were given material to learn. One group was given high grades at the end and told that they did well. The second group was given "fair" grades (with no typical grade inflation) and the students were praised for their EFFORT. In round two, the students were given an opportunity to explore more material on their own.

Want to know what happened?

Those students that were praised for their EFFORTS and given brutally honest grades were more willing to take initiative and do further study. To the self-esteem camp - OOOOPS! The ones that did not do well (gradewise) did not cave in (on average) and elect not to continue investigation. In fact it was the disparity between performance and reward that seemed to be the biggest problem.

This brings me to my point (finally).

After 14 years of teaching martial arts to very bright young (18-26) people at a University, I recently took on the task of teaching in my new location in suburbia. I have taught as young as 5 and as old as 70. They come in all sizes, shapes, abilities, attitudes, and baggage. One of the clubs where I now teach has evolved (for reasons unknown) completely into a kids class. It has been both the most rewarding and the most frustrating experience of recent memory.

The temptation (and the advice) in teaching young kids is to create lots of belt ranks and give out rank basically for "time in grade". Go ahead - pass the trash onto the next level. If you don't you discourage them and they will quit. They NEED the reinforcement. And now with some of the hard evidence, my response is "OH REALLY?" In the past at the university I was "brutally fair" and I got great results, but I often wondered if it wasn't just a process of natural selection. The evidence makes me believe that there is something to the brutal approach, but it must be supplemented with a process that praises effort. I did this in a way at the university by actually (numerically) factoring in attendance as part of a student's final score. That was certainly a proxy for effort and one way to reward it.

With the kids I think it is a tricky proposition. I don't know how other folks feel, but I have always loved all students that come in with an open mind and heart. There has always been room in the "family" for the slow learners. I just want to make sure that the message to these young kids - who often must operate among cruel peers - is that the effort counts and is appreciated. HOW to do that is the real question.

Looking for thoughts and ideas....

Bill


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 1999 9:26 pm 
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Location: Evansville, IN, USA
A teenager (16) comes into a martial arts school. He is in poor condition, overweight and has poor flexibility. His Sensei who wants his money gives him belt after belt. Soon his esteem is overflowing, and he is 2nd Kyu and enters his first tournament (it has taken him a mere 6 months to reach 2nd Kyu, which happended during the down part of the season). First match he is brutally annihilated 5-0 in as many seconds, and leaves the floor literally in tears. True story. I think we have all seen it in it many forms before. So, as a traditional martial artist who believes that the martial tradition is to enhance the spirit, my obvious question is, what has the martial arts done here? At best nothing, at worst the individual in question will have worse esteem then before, now realizing that his confidence before was built on a lie (actually, what really happened afterwards is the Sensei double-promoted him to 1st dan for his effort, and kept the student and his chequebook).

I don't believe in being deluded. I don't believe in the fabricating of illusion. Nothing good comes from evil and fabricating illusion is a evilness, in my opinion. There may be exceptions to the rule (a student in another school was physically handicapped, could barely stand up after sitting on the ground without assistance. He also never missed a class that I can recall. He is a shodan (after several years) and he deserves it. There is no illusion in this case because he does not believe himself to be a wrecking machine of a black belt. He knows his rank is based on spirit and not his kicks and strikes (even given that his physical ability is far superior to the day he walked in the dojo, which is what counts too).

Perhaps a suggestion (and I don't know the standard rules at your dojo), but perhaps what would be helpful is to have a "test when you are ready" policy as opposed to a set testing time. I students expect to test when there are set test times, and they expect to pass. With a test when you are ready either the students make progress or they don't. No progress, no test. If they don't get the message they will come and see and they you can spell it out for them. Expect to lose students no matter how diplomatic you are.

With very young kids, which is what I think you are really asking about, then there should definitely be a reassigning of belt when they reach a certain age. I strongly believe that age should be determined for each person, when they can accept the full responsibilty for their martial journey. For some this is 12-13. For some it is older (for some it never happens at all). However, before that age hits the criteria perhaps should be lower, but exist none-the-less. I.e. for younger kids there is a balance between discouraging them and building illusion.

Osu!
Jason

ADDENDUM

Okay, maybe I am being a little bit too onesided (it happens sometimes). There are definitely cases where a little bit of encouragement can make a tiger out of a kitten, and that should be pursued along the right path.

Example, you get a student. Tries moderately hard, but lacks self-esteem for whatever reason. This person gets good at X but remains not very good at Y (X & Y are promotion requirements). After skipping a testing period, perhaps in some cases this individual should be promoted anyway, on the condition that it is carefully explained that you are pleased with their progress in X but want them to continuing practicing Y because it will be on the next test. Stick to it, make sure it is or you lose credibility, right? This accomplishes all goals involved. The person needs a boost ... they get their boost, now it is a quesion of what they do with it! Same applies for kids I think. Constructively nudge them in the direction you want them to go (i.e. improve) and encourage the improvement they show. Get the parents involved if possible, sometimes (heaven forbid) parenting may be a problem. In this case, maybe the martial arts again can be of great benefit (martial artists tend to have a strong individualism and strong survival spirit).

Osu again!
Jason

[This message has been edited by Jason Bernard (edited 01-28-99).]


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 1999 9:44 pm 
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Jason

All your points are well taken.

The "test when ready" philosophy has its merits. However I have problems with this on several accounts. First if the school starts to get large, it is too difficult to operate that way. When my collective student body got around 100 at the university, it became necessary to be very regimented and systematic to make things work and take advantage of the "economies of scale". I could not handle 100 separate agendas.

Another factor is worth mentioning here. I operate nonprofit, as do most of my instructors. Some go off on there own in other cities and collect fees. Fine! I just don't want to go there, and have never needed that income. So I have never had the corrupting influence of a need to keep the lights on and door open. But still that is no excuse.

One thing I WILL do on the kyu level which helps is to test only two or (at max) three times a year. I will teach as much as a student can absorb. At test time, I have the opportunity to choose one of several ranks for the better students. Most can walk away with something in their hands. A few though will not be promoted if I keep standards.

Another thing worth mentioning is that there is value in the testing process itself. When I first started teaching, I did not give out rank. Once I began to rank and scheduled tests, I noted how students would look to the day of the test and plan their workouts accordingly. Testing is both evaluation and motivation. It is also part of the martial experience inasmuch as it makes someone perform under stress. So I believe there is something important about regular testing per se. By the time people are ready for dan ranks, that is another story. Most people should have matured enough in their practice and motivation to adapt to a "test when ready" approach.

I think the key here is to tap into that knowledge that rewarding or praising effort is an important motivating tool. Rank inflation is something we agree on as being a self-destructive approach.

[This message has been edited by Bill Glasheen (edited 01-28-99).]


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 1999 1:01 am 
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Location: Wellesley, MA. USA
Bill Sensei,
As you know I've got a little experience with this. I run an after school rec. Department program that has 4 classes with a total of about 50 kids enrolled. I also have a Dojo within a health club that has two kid's classes with another 30 kids enrolled. I've been doing this for 6 years now.
All that said let me say that I am no expert. Here's what I do.
Our school has 20 kyu ranks for kids. Our handbook contains curriculum requirements for each rank. We have promotional tests every eight weeks through the school year, an adverse of 6 tests per year. Kids are invited, in writing, several weeks before a test. The adverse number of test candidates per test is 8-10.

Rank is based on achievement I have no strict time in grade requirements, so a particularly hard working and talented kid can promote at every scheduled promo and still take 3.3 years to make iekyu.
I occasionally will reward exceptional students with an "out of the blue" promo. (I did it at class today for an 8-year-old beginner who has severe learning disabilities but is walking through Sanchin opening after only 4 classes!)
I don't "social Promote" and have lost students because of it. I think my success as a professional teacher of Karate comes from the fact that I hold my students to a tough standard while doing everything I can to help them reach it.

Some usefull reference material.

Tony Gummerson; Teaching Martial Arts A&C Black London 1992. This book
is about teaching to all ages I found it very useful.
Gaku Homma; Children and the Martial, Arts an Aikido Point of View North
Atlantic Books Berkeley, California 1993 I loved this book, The author
Studied Aikido under O-Sensei himself. His drills and training games
Are fun for the kids and teach good MA principles. the section on basic
Techniques contains the best detailed breakdowns of Aikido throws I've
Ever seen.
"How to Teach MA to Kids" by the Kovar brothers. To order, send to Kovar's
Karate Center, 7520 Fair Oaks Blvd, Carmichael, CA 95608, or maybe you
can find them online.


If I can be of any help please let me know,

Sincerely,
Steve


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 1999 1:05 am 
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Location: Wellesley, MA. USA
Correction:
not adverse Average (So much for the spell check)
SD


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 1999 6:29 am 
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Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Hey Folks -

I've just spent the last two years in school getting certified to teach high school. And each education class promotes one of the "new" ideas about education. But in the end, there are very few honest professional that won't admit the value of BALANCE. As in karate, and really any human endeavor; learning is a path, not a destination. This being my guiding principle, let me explain what I mean about balance.

Students need structure when learning. It is unfortunate, even tiresome to the instructor who wants to shuck convention in order to show the broad applicability of their subject. But part of structure is knowing when it does not apply. This is the instructors job - its what we all get the big bucks for... Having well-defined, criterion-based standards for advancement is critical. It helps determine the student's understanding of what is required/expected, and lends the structure needed for them to stay on whatever unfamiliar path you are leading them on. Specifically, self-esteem is important, but not at the expense of actual acomplishment. It is unfortunate that education in particular is so vulnerable to fads, and this fact hurts many of our public institutions. But in the end, a good instructor understands the need for balance. I consider myself somwhat hard-core in many ways, probably from my initiation under you, Bill. But comprimising the spirit of a dojo for silly reasons like money can break that very spirit in ways that cannot be forecast. Do I promote occasionally for effort when ability is lacking? Of course I do. And the student is made aware of the decision, in plain language. My personal cut-off for effort-type inducements stops well short of Dan rank. And students who receive a reward of this kind are informed of the requirements they face for further rank. This does not in any way hinder me from making adjustments for physical shortcomings - I myself can't kick worth a damn, have centering problems, and am a mediocre sparring partner. But students who cross both the effort and ability lines receive no special consideration. Quite frankly, it is not our job to cure all ills, but to help those who desire our assistance. If a student has trouble with this, they are free to leave and find a more accomodating instructor - and my dojo will be better for their departure.

I guess I got on my high horse there, but poor instruction is one of my hot-buttons. Day one, regardless of what I am teaching, I tell my students that they are their own number one best instructor, now and forever. I will assist them in any way possible, give clues and advice and extra training. But I cannot learn for them.

Constructivism, grade inflation, praise, standards, stick training, intimidation, fear, visualization, personal logs, etc. All are merely tools of an instructor. The measure of a teacher, and why they are held in such high regard in the east, is how they balance their message.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 1999 6:30 am 
A lot of how I feel about testing comes from many discussions with Sensei Dunnigan. Please understand that this is my take on those many talks. First of all, as everyone has noted here, kyu ranks and dan are different. I will look at kyu ranks and kids first of all.

Testing is never done for monetary reasons ever! If they are going to leave over it then so be it. (By the same token, if you have a very large school, and missed someone who was truly ready -- be honest, admit it and fix it.)

Sensei Dunnigan did not charge a fee for kyu rank testing and neither do I. (Never be tempted to pay the rent by holding a test.)

Effort is the greatest criteria.

Everyone is an individual. While there are guidelines for performance, this must always be kept in mind.

Jason and others talked about promoting someone to motivate them or get them over a training hump. Sensei Dunnigan would only rarely do this. He explained that it had mixed results. For some it had the desired effect, they rose to the new rank and beyond. Others expected it to happen again (it never did).

For kids I have a lot of rank steps because I feel they need quicker feedback on what they are doing. I have:

White Belt
1,2 & 3 Yellow stripes
Yellow Belt
1,2 & 3 Blue stripes
Blue Belt
1,2 & 3 Red stripes
Red Belt
1,2 & 3 Green Stripes
Jr. Rokkyu
The rest follows the normal kyu ranking.

The belts are the jr. kyu levels and require a level of performance of the schools curriculum.

The stripes, which you must have to be tested for a belt, are handed out in classes for effort. No effort -- no stripes. No stripes -- no belt promotion.

Dan rank becomes more difficult and I have almost no experience in this regard. What I do have has taught me some good lessons.

Never put anyone up unless they are 120% minimum ready, because they will lose 20 % minimum on the test.

If you have to ask if they are ready -- they are not.

But again, everyone is an individual and effort must be recognized. I remember one person who was put up for his shodan test after 11 years of training. I guess the only way to explain this is to say that karate did not come easily to him. Yet for eleven years he attended class and worked hard. Was it a phenomenal test? Define your standards. I can think of no better definition of determination, perseverance and effort! Did he deserve his rank? If you are asking me -- without a doubt.

Just some of my thoughts,

Rick


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 1999 1:00 pm 
A few opinions from my corner.

I taught kids classes in others' dojo as a regular thing before, and can see a REAL value of extra smaller steps with overt apparel displays such as belt colors and extra stripes. They seem to live-off status symbols and need them to keep motivated. It is good for them to have small well-defined steps in which they can see themselves improving.


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 1999 3:09 pm 
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Folks

There were a number of reasons why I brought this topic up. One was because of the recent findings about "self-esteem-induced grading methods". The other was because...I had a promotional coming up (which has now passed).

Interesting thing happened. First of all, I encourage the parents to come watch so THEY can see why Johnny or Susie won't get a yellow belt. There were two people involved in this episode: one family of a very bright but physically challenged kid, and .... my own son. Both these kids spoke often about what it would take to get all the way to yellow belt at the test. They were completely missing the point, and certainly not matching the ability with the rank. The good news is that both got another stripe on their belts, but did not get the rank they wanted - and EVERYONE could see why. Those that got to that level really were apart from the pack. My son was disappointed and complained to mom, but mom could see and certainly backed the decision. But they got SOMETHING for their small but measureable improvement.

Something else happened that was a bit of a surprise. One of my bright shining stars who has been with me for 5 or more years messed up on his test. He took three times to get through his seisan, and then made an entirely different error in the kata on the bunkai. All other parts of the test were OK, but there was a little something lacking (spirit??). At the end I brought him up in front of everyone he tested with and explained why he would not get promoted that day. I told him he had the option of working on the kata and retesting just that part of the test when he was ready. I spoke to the whole group about the importance of MASTERING sanchin, designated kata, and sparring.

I felt really bad, because this kid is one of three from a family that spends a lot of energy supporting our club. The father is there at every workout, and they sometimes have my son over to play with his boys. Well you know what happened? Mom was there and filmed the test. They all went home and reviewed the results. Dad had to work that day, but saw what happened and called me up.....to thank me.

Sometimes the most difficult decisions to make turn out to be the best ones in the end.

Bill


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 1999 3:40 pm 
Hi Bill.

I remember a little guy who intimately knew his kata just drew a blank and could not do any of it at the test.

He was even given the opportunity to perform during different periods of the test day, but each time yielded the same result.

Sometimes you can't even let the best through even though many knew he could do.

Allen



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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 1999 3:59 pm 
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Allen

I've seen this before. In fact not too many years ago I was asked to conduct a re-test for a godan candidate who couldn't get through sanseiryu, in spite of the fact that he had been studying Uechi as long as I. Even in his retest he needed two times to get through a form that he did daily. Wierd!

This phenomenon is - I think - similar to happens when one faces the "real" situation. I've been in debate with Van about this before. He and others have a somewhat binary view of the "chemical cocktail" and the ability to perform when your life is on the line. While I will not consider testing in front of a board (even if they are all as ugly as I) to be like facing a knife or being jumped on the street, it is nevertheless a good place to start when trying to understand and deal with this phenomenon. And I maintain that SOME can actually rise to the occasion under these stressful conditions. SOME can indeed do complex motions under stress. These are the same people who - if they played basketball - want the ball at the end of the game and can make the big play. I maintain that part of the test is learning to deal with this stress, and that you CAN learn to channel all those external factors to something constructive. Many cannot, but I believe that some can with proper training.

Others disagree with me. However I've seen too much variability in ability at these tests to think otherwise. A few of my students show me performances at the tests of a quality that I never see at any other time. And some screw up royally. However most in these circumstances have something else going on (life stressors, or a discontinuity in training). I've also had a few "incidents" in my life. Knock on wood, I have found (so far) that there is something in me (learned or genetic) that makes me reach down and perform at another level when facing my demise. It's only after everything is over that I physically fall apart (body shakes, etc). It's almost as if I take my body out of gear and my engine races out of control; but while I am in gear, the car performs at another level.

We digress, but you bring up a very good point.

Bill


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 1999 4:15 pm 
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Bill about the guy not being able to get through Sanseiru... I studied classical piano for three years as an adult, practieced every night yada yada..yet whenever I sat down at a strange piano, I nearly went blank. Although it was mostly in front of others, it was more than basic stage fright, it happened when I was alone. Out of my comfort zone? Who knows? Very weird.

Kevin


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 1999 4:31 pm 
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Yes.

I maintain that this is indeed part of the test, and students must deal with the consequences of the performance - or lack thereof. Performing under stress is, in my book, part of what martial arts is about.


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 1999 3:21 am 
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Well, as Billl noted, there was a little unpleasentness on Saturday at the test, but there was also a huge success - The Richmond Uechi family exceeded the capacity of our rather large workout hall! About 30 assorted members tested, from beginner to sankyu. A whole rainbow of belts and stripes were honestly earned. After six years of trying we may have achieved and possibly exceeded critical mass.

The test board included three home grown black belts. The group testing, plus parents, was so overwhelming we probably will not combine the two different health club schools for the next test. The show of force was extremely encouraging, and can only help draw in more future Uechi-ka.

The future is bright.

Rich


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